College Recruiters: Good or Bad?

Amid increased competition for international students, colleges in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada are stepping up their efforts to attract students.  Colleges in each country are exploring a number of methods to increase enrollment, some of which have come into question.  In particular, colleges who use recruiters have come into scrutiny.  A recent USA Today article touches on the ethical dilemma colleges face when using recruiters.

College recruiters are often referred to as “headhunters” because they receive a fee for every “head”, or student, they send to a particular college.  Colleges partner with recruiters who are familiar with countries such as China, India, South Korea, or Vietnam.  The recruiter convinces students in the country to attend the recruiter’s partner college.  Most recruiters will even help the student complete the application and secure a student visa, but only if the student is attending the recruiter’s partner college.

The deal works out quite well for recruiter and the college.  The college gets an international student paying international tuition, averaging over $25,000/year.   The recruiter gets a percentage of that tuition, between 5%-15% of first-year tuition.  The recruiter gets one of these payments for every student the recruiter places at the university.

Ironically, the one person neglected in this deal is the person most in need of help.  International students seek help from recruiters precisely because they are unfamiliar with the American university system. However, the recruiter is not paid to help the student understand the American university system, the recruiter is paid to convince the student to attend a particular college.  Because the recruiter has the partner college before meeting the students, the recruiter is essentially saying that she knows the right college for the student before even meeting the student.

For the international students, using recruiters can be a very costly decision.  Colleges are able to pay recruiters because of the increased tuition they receive from international students.  Because these colleges are pursuing international students for the increased tuition, they are the least likely to give institutional aid to international students.

However, not all colleges in the U.S. value international students solely for tuition.  Many colleges value international students for reasons of diversity and international exposure.  Many are willing to give the students financial aid to attract the students to their school.  Thus, there are tons of financial aid opportunities for international students among the 4000+ universities in the U.S. Working with a recruiter will almost certainly preclude any possibility of receiving financial aid for the student.

Even more valuable than lost money, four years of lost time can be a life-altering consequence of choosing the wrong school.  The student is committing four years of her life to college.  Furthermore, the student only gets one shot at this decision.  Choosing the wrong college can make those four years an uncomfortable experience.  Choosing a disreputable college can have long-term effects on the student’s career prospects and even social life.

Many universities recognize the conflict of interest presented by the recruiting industry.  For now, most colleges refuse to work with recruiters.  Until now, only community colleges and lesser-known universities have been willing to use recruiters.  However, reduced public budgets have pressured many cash-strapped schools to seek international student tuition.  Recruiters provide a fast and easy fix to these financial problems, but at a great cost to the reputation of the school and an even greater cost to the school’s students.


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